CHAPTER 2

S H I E L D S !

K I R K

“Captain’s log, star date three-eight-two-three, point one. Our mission is to recalibrate a sensor array satellite located close to the Neutral Zone; its strategic position makes it vital to Federation security. Landing team effecting repairs.” Kirk sat back in the big chair looking at the screen of dead space in front of him anxiously waiting for the technical engineers to finish their work on the array, so he could warp out and find some action.

“Transporter Chief, to Captain.”

“Go ahead.”

“Unable to establish transporter lock on the landing team . . . a field of dillithium hydroxyl is enveloping the array.”

“Science station; can you determine the source of the dillithium hydroxyl field?”

“It does not appear to be naturally occurring, Captain.”

Kirk got a funny feeling something was wrong. “Yellow alert!”

“Captain; unable to establish communication link with the landing party.”

“Captain; array losing power; orbit decaying.”

“Lock on tractor beam!”

“Captain; the isobaric intermix of the array is destabilizing . . . structural failure imminent.”

“Use the shields to create a subspace field around the array.”

“Captain; the array is entering the planetary atmosphere . . . burn up in three minutes, eleven seconds.”

“Divert power from the warp engines to the tractor beam.”

“Captain; outer skin of the ship rising above critical temperature . . . the array is continuing to decelerate.”

“Captain; anomalous activity at four-six-one, mark three.”

“On screen . . . Is that another field of dillithium hydroxyl?”

“Negative, sir; high levels of plasma radiation discharge.”

Kirk rubbed his chin and studied the screen. Plasma radiation? Suddenly, as if it was a mirage, a Klingon Attack Ship materialized. “Red Alert!” The incessant bleating of the siren was a cadence that stirred the blood to a fever pitch; it brought clarity to thought and urgency to movement. It was an unmistakable refrain heard only when life and death were in weapon’s range of each other . . . everyone knew there would be only one winner. “Maximum power to the shields!”

“Hostile decloaking with weapons locked and fully powered.”

Kirk walked toward the screen and stood behind the helmsman. “Fire phasers; pattern, delta-omega-bravo!”

“Direct hit to their forward shields.”

“Hostile firing phasers.” The module jolted as it received bursts of high energy.”

“Captain; warp engines are offline.”

Kirk methodically went down the checklist. “Radiation protocol all decks. Damage control parties to effected areas. Sickbay; prepare for radiation casualties. Communications; send a subspace message with our status report.”

“Captain; severe radiation damage on decks nine through twelve . . . six dead, fourteen injured.”

“Shield strength, sixty-two percent.”

“Captain; hull breach on deck eight.”

“Chief; divert more power to the shields.”

“Captain; the dynamic converter is overloaded from tying the warp drive into the tractor beam— auxiliary power only.”

“Hostile firing phasers . . . partial hit to starboard nacelle . . . compensating.”

“Photon torpedo spread, gamma-epsilon . . . fire!”

“Direct hit to Hostile’s propulsion system; warp core damage.”

“Engage full impulse power to port; heading three-one-four, mark three!”

“Hostile is firing . . . damage to aft thrusters.”

“Invert our apogee negative three degrees . . . create a plasma field and fire phasers into it on my mark . . . fire!”

“Hostile’s containment field is breaking down; their shields still holding.”

“Hostile firing phaser burst . . . direct hit to our lateral sensor array; weapons lock is offline.”

“Shield strength, fifty-four percent.”

“Tactical grid onscreen . . . Calibrate the harmonic resonance of the phasers to an upper E.M. band; target area Gamma-two-four . . . Fire!”

“Hostile’s shields are buckling; structural integrity failing.”

“Hostile returning fire . . . critical hit to power plant; distribution nodes are streaming.”

“Chief; transfer power source to the deflector array.”

“Captain; main power coupling severed; deflector array offline.”

“Captain; radiation levels rising beyond safety levels.”

“Target their main bridge, grid Alpha-six-one . . . fire on my mark . . . fire!”

“Hostile’s shields are disabled.”

“Phaser strength, thirty-six percent.”

“That should be enough to finish her . . . maximum phasers . . . grid Delta-four-eight . . . Fire!”

“Direct hit to engineering section; Hostile jettisoning warp core.” The resulting explosion turned the bridge on its side momentarily and then only partially righted. The crew swayed and stumbled, but kept their posts manned.

“Captain; damage to the matter/antimatter pod . . . antimatter containment failure in progress.”

“Use antimetric grav units to manually stabilize the containment field, Chief.”

“Captain; Hostile on collision course at full impulse.”

“Evasive maneuvers . . . fire phasers at will!”

“Phaser strike has not altered Hostile’s course.”

“Captain; hostile will overtake in forty-three seconds.”

“Chief, can we generate a static warp jump?”

“Negative, Captain; reactor core is unstable.”

“Divert all power to shields; crew evacuation, decks six through eleven— shutdown life support in those areas in ten seconds.”

“Shield strength, forty-four percent.”

“Ready photon torpedo.”

“Captain; without more power to the shields a photon detonation at this range will breech our hull.”

“All stop!”

“Answering all stop.”

“Hostile will overtake us in seventeen seconds . . .”

“Divert power from impulse engines to shields.”

“Shield strength, sixty-one percent.”

“Cut life support by fifty percent to remaining decks.”

“Shield strength, seventy-two percent.”

“Fire photon torpedo, grid Lincoln-seven-seven, on my mark . . . fire!”

As the Klingon ship erupted into a violent fireball, their vessel was repulsed, sending the bridge crew crashing into consoles and sprawling onto the deck. They quickly regained their positions to assess their situation.

“Captain; power curve from the explosion has created a distortion wave . . . impact in twenty-six seconds.”

“Hull integrity cannot be maintained without more power to the shields, Captain.”

Kirk seemed to freeze for a moment, as the eyes of his crew turned to him for direction. Then he decisively commanded, “Helm; modulate shields to conform to the field integrity of the distortion wave.”

“Modulating shields, Captain.”

“Impact in three . . . two . . . one . . .” The crew were knocked off their feet, but scrambled back into position.

“Captain; hull stress approaching critical.”

“Evacuate decks three through five . . . life support shutdown in effect.”

“Shield strength, twenty-seven percent . . . thirty-four percent . . . forty-eight percent.”

“Cut life support to twenty percent on remaining decks; all power to the shields!” The yeoman staggered to the supply locker and grabbed oxygen masks for everyone on the bridge.

“Captain; hull breach, decks ten and eleven.”

“Helm; drop your pitch to zero; let the wave flow over . . . steady as she goes.”

“Distortion wave has dissipated.”

“Captain; decks ten and eleven have buckled, deck nine is breached.”

“Casualty reports coming in, Captain.”

“Belay that!”

“Captain; there’s a warp core coolant leak . . . system is critical.”

“Acknowledged . . . Seal engineering.”

“Radiation levels continuing to rise, sir.”

“Release radizine into the vents; restore life support to fifty percent on decks one and two.”

“Captain; a warp core breach is imminent.”

“Use shield power to create a stabilizing field around the warp core. Damage control parties, to decks . . .”

“Captain; two Klingon cruisers decloaking on our flanks with weapons locked!”

“All power to the shields!”

“Captain; we have to jettison the warp core.”

“Contain the breach till the last possible moment . . . I don’t want to tip our status to the Klingons.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Shield strength thirty-one percent; phaser strength eighteen percent. Auxiliary power only.”

“Captain; Klingon commander demanding unconditional surrender.”

“Tactical; target the source of that communication and send the following message . . . photon torpedoes; pattern alpha-theta on my mark . . .”

“Captain; that will expend remaining photon torpedoes.”

“Understood . . . Fire!”

“Direct hit to Hostile-Baker. Damage to their starboard nacelle; forward shield failure; warp drive offline.”

“Captain; Hostile-Charlie firing a verteron pulse . . . system-wide overload.” As proof, sparks crackled at the navigational console.

“Impulse engines are offline.”

“Captain; warp core breach in progress.”

“Target Hostile-Charlie and jettison the core, Chief!”

The explosion jarred all the ships. “Warp core explosion in grid Delta-three-seven . . . power fluctuations to Hostile-Charlie’s forward shields; they’re coming about to starboard.”

“Captain; plasma fire on deck four . . . spreading to decks three and five. Emergency functions are offline.”

“Damage control party to deck three!”

“Hostile-Charlie locking on tractor beam, sir.”

“Chief; release inertial dampeners and eject the antimatter pod at that tractor beam. Tactical; target the antimatter pod and fire phasers . . . now!” The resulting explosion rocked all three ships.

“Phaser banks empty, Captain.”

“Hostile-Charlie has released tractor beam; their shields holding; warp engines offline. Hostile-Baker, unstable; warp core breach imminent.”

“Captain; Hostile-Charlie firing laser . . . they have severed the port nacelle; we are beginning to spiral.”

“Helm not responding!”

“Captain; three minutes, twenty-eight seconds till atmospheric burn up.”

“Captain; Hostile-Charlie has reestablished tractor beam.”

“Send a power feedback using the emitter array.”

“Zero power to the emitter array, sir.” Around them the structure began to buckle.

“Zero power to shields, Captain.”

“Engineering; are there any remaining power sources? Engineering? Engineering!”

“Captain; decks four through seven have been exposed to space.”

“Captain; life support systems have failed.”

In a final act of defiance, Kirk kicked the conn as he seethed at the onslaught of defeat. “Computer; identify, Mission Commander . . . begin Auto-Destruct sequence, One-One-A.”

“Captain; Auto-Destruct unavailable . . . main computer is offline.”

“Captain; we are being boarded.”

Just then the doors of the bridge opened and an impeccably groomed lieutenant strode confidently onto the ravaged bridge. The lights came up to full intensity, revealing a swirling haze of smoke and dust, while the consoles continued to sizzle. The bridge crew put aside their masks and breathed deeply as life support functions were restored. They regained themselves and came to attention, as sweat poured down their faces.

“Report!” the lieutenant demanded.

“Cadet Kirk in command of the simulator, reporting one Klingon Attack Ship destroyed, one D-Five class Klingon Cruiser on the brink of destruction and the other severely damaged, Lieutenant Finney, sir.”

Finney raised an eyebrow. “To hear you tell it this was a victory for your crew.”

“We inflicted tremendous damage on the Hostiles, sir.”

“General Custer’s troops killed many Hostiles at The Little Big Horn . . . would you judge the Seventh Calvary victorious that day, Cadet Kirk?”

“No I wouldn’t, sir.”

“Your ship is in the hands of an enemy that will be able to adapt all of our technology and use it against us, which jeopardizes Federation lives throughout the quadrant . . . you have broken the cardinal rule, Captain Kirk.”

“Yes, sir.”

“A captain that allows an enemy to retrieve his vessel is nothing short of an incompetent coward,” Finney declared, unequivocally. “Is that understood, Cadet Kirk?”

“Perfectly, sir.”

“You failed to use the remaining power at your disposal to charge the main computer and initiate the auto destruct sequence.”

“With all due respect, Lieutenant Finney, sir, there was no power left; I used it all trying to defeat the enemy and save the ship.”

“And yet accomplished neither task.”

“Yes, sir.”

Finney walked over to the tactical station and reached into the utility drawer; retrieving three phasers, he went to the main power grid and opened an O.D.N. conduit. “By draining the power from these phasers, I can get the main computer online, so the Auto-Destruct sequence can be initiated . . . I’ll even have enough for a phaser blast, as a parting shot so I can take a few more of those bastards with me . . . Computer; tactical analysis of Hostile vessels.

“Working . . .”

“Query; evaluate the effect on remaining Hostile vessels if the Daedalus Class starship were to self destruct?”

“Hostiles would be destroyed, all hands lost.”

Finney fixed Kirk with a hard stare. “Unlike the Kobayashi Maru mission, there was a dozen ways to win this battle . . . you failed to find even one.”

“Yes, sir.”

Finney stood in front of the viewer and folded his hands behind his back as he addressed the group. “We fight battles to end wars; the quest of The Federation is to win the peace and no sacrifice is too great for that cause. If your destruction takes out three enemy vessels, our enemies will be cautious—fewer battles fought; fewer lives lost. If our enemies trade a bloody nose to bring home the carcass of a starship and take the bridge officers hostage then enemy commanders get hungry for glory—more battles fought; more lives lost. Is that understood?”

The crew replied in chorus, “Understood, Lieutenant Finney, sir.”

Finney marched over to Kirk and stood directly in front of him to drive home his point. “The art of command is knowing how to use losses wisely so that no one need die unnecessarily or in vain . . . you have squandered the lives of your crew and failed to secure your ship; for that there can be no excuse.”

“I offer no excuses, Lieutenant Finney, sir.”

Finney turned away briskly and stood with his back to the crew. “I will expect your log entries by eighteen hundred hours . . . Dismissed!” As the tired crew shuffled away, Finney called out, “Cadet Kirk, you will remain behind at attention.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Kirk steeled himself for the private dressing down he was about to take, knowing this reality would not be as harsh as the simulated scenario he was facing as a slave in a Klingon mining camp.

Once the crew had cleared the bridge, Finney casually turned around and assumed a relaxed posture. “Cadet Kirk, I have just received word that I will be assigned to shuttlecraft duty at The Axanar Peace Conference this summer.”

“Congratulations, sir. It is quite an honor to be chosen for such a significant mission.”

“It is indeed . . . that’s why I’d like for you to join me as my co-pilot.”

“Me, sir? There’re more qualified cadets, even other officers that deserve this honor more than me.”

“None with your aptitude.”

“Permission to speak freely, Lieutenant Finney, sir.”

“Knock yourself out.” Seeing Kirk’s confused look Finney amended, “Permission granted, Cadet.”

“Sir, my performance was unsatisfactory; why would you select me for a mission of such galactic importance?”

“You made costly mistakes, so we’ll work on teaching you not to make those mistakes . . . but your instincts are extraordinary; you fight like a tiger.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“At ease, Kirk . . . at ease.” Finney pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Kirk, who awkwardly accepted. Finney lit their cigarettes and continued, “Now tell me; just how the hell did you think of modulating the shield frequency to conform to the distortion wave’s configuration?”

“I . . . well, I don’t know, sir. I just saw it in my head and thought it would work.”

“Well, Kirk, that’s one for the books. As soon as I file my report on this engagement, every starship captain will be briefed and the process will be fed into ship’s computers to automatically make the adjustment. That’s the kind of thinking that saves lives. You could even get a commendation.”

Kirk blew out a puff of smoke and shook his head as the gravity of his accomplishment sunk in. “I don’t know what to say, sir.”

“Will you give some thought to my offer?”

“I don’t need time to think about it, Lieutenant Finney; I’ll be honored to accompany you on this mission, sir.”

“This is no pleasure cruise. Whenever people gather in the name of peace the enemies of peace make their presence known; I want you to be on your toes and ready for anything, is that understood?”

“Perfectly, Lieutenant Finney, sir.”

“Very well, Cadet; you’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.” They threw their cigarettes into a plasma disposal bin and shook hands. Kirk, who had been dragging his tail a moment before, practically bounded for the hatch.

Suddenly Finney snapped, “Cadet Kirk; haven’t you forgotten something?”

Although he knew by the question that he had, he couldn’t think of what it could be. “I’m at a loss, sir,” he frankly admitted.

“What happened to your landing team aboard the array?” Kirk felt humiliated that he had forgotten about the lives represented on the array and stared ahead blankly in response. Finney leveled him with a poignant look. “Dismissed, Cadet.”

Kirk left the simulator and headed for his quarters feeling out of sorts. His elation over being selected to participate in the proceedings at Axanar was tempered by his frustration at being negligent in the simulated battle defeat. As he opened the door of his room, he was jarred back to reality by a bucketful of water being dumped on his head. In a moment a group of upperclassmen emerged from their hiding places to laugh uproariously in his face, led by his cadet commander, Angus Finnegan.

“You’re a real drip, Plebe Kirk.”

“Yes, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

“Me buddies and me are bored; entertain us with a little song and dance, Jimmy-boy.”

“I don’t really know any songs, Cadet Commander Finnegan . . . I’m no singer.”

“Everybody knows their school fight song . . . let’s hear yers.” Kirk’s jaw tightened in response and Finnegan barked, “Ya ain’t about to disobey me orders are ya? Ya Delvin hissin’ beetle, ya!” Finnegan flagrantly invaded Kirk’s critical distance to stand nose to nose with him. “Yer not thinkin’ of tellin’ me to go climb a rock, are ya, boyo?”

Kirk swallowed hard to temper his answer. “I was just taking a moment to remember the words, Cadet Commander Finnegan.” Kirk slowly drew his breath and closed his eyes as he launched into the opening . . . before he could sing the first line Finnegan interrupted.

“Hold it there; let’s turn this into a bona fide production, with and all the trimmin’s!” One of Finnegan’s pals handed him a red, feathered boa, which he placed around Kirk’s neck; another of his cohorts handed him a pink pillbox hat with a veil that he plunked on Kirk’s head. “Now ya look like a real songbird. Okay, take it from the top . . . and ah one and ah two . . .”

On the downbeat, Kirk braced himself and began again, but Finnegan stopped him. “Cut! I promised the lads a floorshow, so let’s see some dancin’.” Kirk began to sing the song he had heard so many times while on the field and at pep rallies, and used some of the steps he had glimpsed the cheerleaders doing, but Finnegan cut in. “Roll up them pantaloons and show us some leg, Jimmy-darlin’; really kick those gams in the air . . . more oomph!” Finnegan’s mates laughed and whistled, while Kirk plodded through the tune, half speaking the lines. “Alright now bring it home!” Mechanically, Kirk complied and felt relief as he went into the final stanza. “Now for yer big finish, do the splits.” Without hesitation, Kirk dropped down and did the splits . . . for the first time in his life. With a flourish, he raised his arms and the peanut gallery cheered him. Kirk unsteadily rose to his feet, drained from the effort it took not to dismantle his wiry tormentor. But to his dismay, Finnegan called out, “One more time, Jim-baby!”

Knowing he was licked, Kirk performed the number to specifications again . . . and when Finnegan and his crew called out, “Encore! Encore!” he performed it yet again . . . and then one final time for a command performance.

Kirk stood tensely at attention to control his rage, while Finnegan pulled the boa from his neck and snatched the hat off his head. “Yer mission is to amuse and entertain me, so ya’d better be polishin’ up yer act for next time . . . do ya read me?”

“Affirmative, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

Finnegan looked at the prom photo of Kirk with his fiancée, Vera Sue, and razzed, “I see ya got a picture of yerself with yer prized hog at the fair; they won’t be pinnin’ any ribbons on that beast . . . I bet’cha she looks better after ya roll her ‘round in the mud some, don’t she Kirko?”

Kirk’s withering glare was palpable to Finnegan. “Whatever you say, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

“I’ll bet ya’d have plenty to say to me if ya could turn yer tongue loose, wouldn’t ya, now? Ya Terrelian sludge worm.”

“You’d win that bet, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

“But since I can give ya demerits and confine ya to quarters, yu’ll be holdin’ that tongue, won’t ya? Ya Rigelian swamp weasel.”

“With both hands, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

“I’m officially demoting ya to the Dunzle of this class. I’m goin’ to make it me business to pin yer ears to yer backside every time I’m feelin’ froggy!” Finnegan and his troupe marched out laughing and singing the Riverside High fight song, and Kirk followed them into the hall for a last word.

“One moment, if you please, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

Finnegan stopped singing. “Only one, Plebe, so get to it.”

“I wanted to remind you to get out to the baseball game a little earlier this week, so that you have a good seat on the bench to watch me play your position.” Finnegan glowered and Kirk derisively grinned. “That’ll be all, Cadet Commander Finnegan.”

P I C A R D

Picard stood at attention in the antique office, trying to casually take in the rich décor of leather, oak, and Persian rugs, while The Superintendent sat behind his desk reviewing his record with disdain. “Most disquieting, Mister Picard . . . incomplete assignments, tardiness, insolence, unexcused absences, a series of immature exhibitions at the expense of fellow cadets— practical jokes I’m sure you would call them. You have more demerits than any third year cadet, even before this latest episode, and you’re only finishing your freshman campaign.” The Superintendent rose and stood at his picture window with his back to Picard. “Whatever am I to do with such an unruly candidate, who shows such little promise?”

Picard cleared his throat purposefully. “Perhaps The Superintendent is unaware that I recently won my first wrestling match; I pinned a Ligonian in just fourteen seconds. In fact I was the only cadet that brought home a medal that day for The Academy, sir.”

“Perhaps the cadet is unaware that being on the wrestling team is an extracurricular activity that does not factor into his final grade,” Bincour dispassionately informed. “In fact, grades and conduct such as his may warrant his removal from the team and eventually The Academy.”

“Sir, I would like to have an opportunity to defend my actions . . . there were unavoidable circumstances that kept me from completing some of those assignments and from arriving punctually at times— or at all.”

The Superintendent beheld him with a withering glare. “No doubt your dog ate your term paper in Astromatrix; you were late to Dynamic Propulsion class because you stopped to fix a leaky nacelle on a shuttlecraft for a little old lady; you missed your Archeology class, because you had to rescue a child from a burning building.”

“Those are perhaps plausible reasons, sir . . . and I have others to offer.”

The Superintendent walked around and stood behind Picard. “While I am certain that I would find your explanations entertaining and would undoubtedly be amused watching you expend your wits concocting these hapless scenarios, I will save us both the time and effort and list the reasons for your consistently inadequate output: A redheaded Rigelian waitress named Myralla; a blonde Australian from the exchange named Nell— short for Quinella; a particularly statuesque Bajorin, whose name you can’t remember for the life of you—it’s Uoltah, Juwine in case you bump into her again . . . not to mention there have been quite a few occasions where your trolling did not bear fruit, yet left you quite indisposed, thus making class and assignments inconvenient.” The Superintendent stood eyeball to eyeball with the cadet and stared him down. “Do you have any other instances you would like to add?”

“Uh . . . no, sir . . . you have obviously investigated my actions quite thoroughly.”

The Superintendent began circling the rigid cadet. “Do you have any idea who I am?”

“Superintendent Tuvani Bincour, sir.”

“Is that the extent of your knowledge of me?”

“Um . . . well, also you have been The Superintendent at The Academy for seven years, sir.”

Bincour chuckled at his expense. “Here you are this loafing hellion, who prides himself on being a scallywag, and you didn’t even take the time to find out all that you could about The Superintendent of The Academy . . . you are a consistently shortsighted individual.” Bincour came around and stood nose-to-nose with Picard. “Since we are fated to have future dealings, let me tell you all that you need to know about me; I am Betazoid . . . Yes you are right to think that.” The Superintendent strode again to the window and looked out on the campus, with his arms folded behind his back. “What is a cadet’s first duty?”

“Sir, a cadet’s first duty is to the truth.”

“And did you come here today to truthfully explain your transgressions, Cadet Picard?”

“I did not, sir.”

Bincour faced him. “Indeed you did not . . . had I allowed you to spill out those ridiculous lies you were formulating, I would be ordering you to pack your case and remove your presence from this campus.”

Picard mustered up an air of deep humility. “I am fortunate that you were able to save me from myself, sir.”

The Superintendent sat down at his desk to take a measure of the young man before him. “Are you trying to get kicked out of here, Cadet Picard?”

“Negative, sir.”

“You came to this institution with Valedictorian credentials; I find your drop off alarming and insulting. You act as if this institution is not worthy of your best efforts.”

“I plan to increase my efforts dramatically, sir . . . honestly.”

Bincour pensively pursed his lips. “Though I find it hard to believe that you will ever discover the disciplines needed to graduate and become a Starfleet officer, I will not dismiss you at this time . . . do not offer your gratitude to me; Boothby has decided to be your benefactor, for reasons known only to him.”

“His support is a mystery to me as well, sir.”

The Superintendent began writing in Picard’s personnel folder. “I am placing you on probation until further notice and I will be a strict monitor . . . your next false step may well be the last one you take at this institution. Dismissed!”

“Aye, sir.” Picard spun and headed for the door as quickly as he could.

Bincour stood up behind his desk. “And, Picard . . . work on controlling your thoughts while in my presence. I particularly do not appreciate that slur, since it reflects poorly on my parentage.”

“Very good, sir.” Picard closed the door and began walking away.

In a moment he heard The Superintendent call out to him. “That malediction is equally offensive to me!”

“I’m working on it, sir.” Quickening his pace, he scooted down the hall then jogged down the steps of the administration building holding his hands over his ears, to keep his thoughts from transmitting.

After going a short distance, he was flanked by two cadets— one male, one female. The male spoke to him first. “Well you sure pulled off a whopper today; reprogramming the replicaters so all the food tasted like gaagk and all the drinks tasted like Klingon warnog— that will go down as a classic.”

“People were doing spit takes like they were in a Vaudeville review,” the female remarked.

“Well my trip to The Superintendent’s office took the giggles right out of me, I’m afraid.”

“I sure hope it won’t be for long; your pranks keep us in stitches,” she enthused.

“Yeah; you really break up the routine around here,” he heralded.

Picard stopped and positioned himself across from them. “I’m afraid you two have me at a disadvantage.”

“I’m Cortin Zweller, and this is my sidekick, Marta Batanides.”

“Corey and Marti.” She grinned and shook Picard’s hand. “We’re big fans of yours; you’ve really made quite a name for yourself as a prankster . . . among other things.”

“Yes, well, I’ve just been put on notice by The Superintendent that my humor is lost on him.”

Zweller shook his head in disgust. “It should be illegal to have a Betazoid superintendent; a guy hasn’t got a fighting chance to get away with nothing, with one of them around.”

“Hey, Johnny, we’re going up to the Pub Tent on Martian Colony-Three; why don’t you come with us,” Marti invited. “It’ll be a blast.”

“It’s a real bar; with real booze— none of that synthahol jazz.”

“Ah . . . no; I’m not in a festive mood. Besides, three is a crowd.”

Zweller and Batanides looked each other up and down and crinkled their noses demonstratively. “Marti and me? No, you got it all wrong; we’re strictly pals.”

“Nothing more . . . not ever,” Marti qualified.

Picard beheld the lovely ingénue with the dark hair and sloe sultry eyes with renewed interest. Noticing his amorous gaze, Zweller laughed. “Forget it, Johnny. Juvenile delinquents like us brings out the little mother in her; she likes her men tinplated and noble . . . yuk.”

Smiling warmly at Picard, Marti cooed, “Besides, I sit next to Shass Pelham in Matrometry class, so I know where relationships with you begin and end.”

Zweller whistled and raised his eyebrows. “Well if a barracuda like that can’t hold his interest, he’d throw you back for sure, Marti.”

“I’ll just stay off the hook where it’s safe.”

Zweller looked around with paranoia. “C’mon, lets get out of here; I think Bincour still can pick up our thought waves even from here.”

Picard sized up the two cadets who were open and genuine. He hadn’t made a lot of friends . . . in fact he had met few people he hadn’t rubbed the wrong way with his diffident persona and was something of a loner in spite of his gregarious nature. He committed petty pranks hoping to get some positive attention, but had only managed to get a brass kicking. These two had a quality that put him at his ease and he was drawn to be with them. “All right then; off we go.”

As they made their way across the campus, Picard saw Boothby and scrunched down to avoid being noticed. Even though Boothby had his back to him, he believed that the old codger knew he was there.

Zweller picked up on Picard’s body language. “Who are you ducking out on, Johnny?”

“I’m trying to slip past that old geezer, Boothby. He’s an odd sort, wouldn’t you say?”

“I can’t say; he’s never said a word to me . . . how about you, Marti?”

“Not really . . . I complimented him once on the African Violets over by the bridle path and he just grunted at me and warned me to keep my stubby hands off them.”

“I wish I’d gotten away so easily; he signed me up for archeology class and gave me an ancient book written in Greek.” Picard snorted. “He even got me to run in the marathon . . . I made sure I won it just to spite him.”

“Why didn’t you tell him to go stick his green thumb up his . . . nose?” Zweller queried.

“I’ll be damned if I know . . . I certainly had a mind to.”

Marti shrugged sympathetically. “Well just humor him; he’s just a harmless old guy.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Picard cryptically alluded.

“Hey, Johnny; do you play dom-jot?” Zweller asked.

Picard thought for a moment. “Dom-jot? I’ve never heard of it. ”

“Corey here is a grandmaster,” Marti attested. “He can roll the terik into straight nines like nobody’s business.”

“I like cleaning out aliens with superiority complexes,” Zweller bragged. “Sometimes it gets pretty intense when they lose big and they may want to make something out of it.”

“Don’t worry, mate; anyone who wants to make trouble will find that I’ll give them all they can handle . . . and a spot more,” Picard promised.

SHORTLY, they disembarked from the shuttle transport on the colony and straightaway went to the bar. The crowd was made up of a cross section of Federation citizens and Starfleet personnel. Since gaining their independence from Earth in the early Twenty-Third Century, Mars had become a favorite stomping ground for those who enjoyed seamier recreations. Outside the Martian-Proper conurbation, with its resorts and attractions, it was a rugged frontier complex where indulgences of pleasurable vices were the order of the day.

They went to a table and pulled up a stool. In a moment they were attended by an Andorian waiter. “Name your poison.”

Picard hesitated, with a slightly embarrassed look on his face. “Ah . . . what currency is required in this establishment?”

“Relax Johnny; it’s all taken care of,” Zweller expansively declared.

“Yeah; I’ve got an account here, so order up and enjoy,” Marti directed.

“I don’t feel right about not paying my fair share,” Picard complained.

Marti smiled at his discomfort. “What’s a few latinum chips between friends?”

“Johnny, you should try the Aldebron whiskey,” Zweller suggested. “It’ll knock your socks off.”

Picard stared at him blankly. “And that is considered a desirable effect?”

“Oh, it’s the best!” Zweller extolled.

“Then Aldebron whiskey it is,” Picard ordered.

“Two,” Zweller seconded.

“And I’ll have a Tarkanian Fizz,” Marti decided. “Make sure Vorhan knows it’s for his ‘Li’l Starburst’.”

“Marti and her mixed drinks,” Zweller sighed.

“Corey only orders drinks that he thinks John Wayne would approve of.”

“Is this Mister Wayne your mentor?” Picard inquired.

Zweller’s jaw dropped. “You’re putting me on?”

“Putting you on what?” Piccard puzzled.

“I’ll fill you in later, pal . . .”

Marti slid a jar containing long multi-colored sticks across the table to Picard. “Here, Johnny, try one of these; they’re suck-salt.” Marti put one in her mouth and rolled it against her tongue with relish.

Piccard cautiously took one and held it to his lips. “Careful, Johnny; those things pack a wallop,” Zweller warned.

Marti took a long draw on her stick. “John Wayne would have liked them.”

Picard put the stick into his mouth and immediately gagged. “That’s disgusting!” he critiqued, as he wiped his tongue with his a napkin.

“Oh everyone has that reaction to them at first; they’re an acquired taste,” Marti admitted.

“That’s even worse than the cigarette my brother, Robaire, and I once smoked in our youth,” Picard recalled.

The drinks arrived and Zweller held his glass up to make a toast, “Ex Astris Liquitis!” He then knocked it back in a gulp.

Picard took a slug to wash away the taste of the suck-salt. “First rate,” he marveled then finished off the drink.

Marti took a sip off her drink through a straw and brightened. “Titillating.”

“Steady, cowboy,” Zweller mocked.

Picard’s eyes had adjusted in the opaque ambiance enough for him to take in the surroundings. At different tables there were patrons gambling on various games of chance. In the dark corners there were cozy booths where couples nuzzled. If they took a liking to each other there were rooms available on a lower level. He had spent more time in salons than saloons, so he was intrigued by the rollicking atmosphere.

The center of activity surrounded the dom-jot table, where a raucous crowd gathered to watch the participants; there were groans and cheers after every shot according to popular allegiance. The game originated on Inzer-Twelve in the Vegan System, and appeared to have some elements of Terran billiards, but with its own unique strategies and objectives.

There was prolonged fanfare at the dom-jot table, indicating that the game had ended. A comparatively small group congratulated a Chalnoth warrior on his victory. Zweller jumped up. “That’s my cue.”

Marti picked up her drink. “Let’s go get’em.”

Picard fell in. “Lead the way.”

As they made their way to the dom-jot table, Marti collided with a humanoid behemoth and their drinks splattered. The male did not seem to consider that she was a female about a third of his size and that he had initiated the contact, as he yelled, “Are you seeking to humiliate me by spilling liquid on my clothes so I look like a baby?”

Before Marti could speak up, Picard stepped in. “It was an accident, sir; she meant no insult.”

“There are no accidents, Terran; you insult me with your deceit!”

As the man crowded him, Picard remembered The Superintendent’s admonition for him to stay out of trouble, so he suppressed his inclination to agitate this boorish bulwark into a confrontation. “I assure you that she had no intention of demeaning you, sir; in fact I’ll get you another drink.”

“You’re going to get me a drink; are you trying to engage me in a mating ritual, Earthling?”

All around those who were listening laughed aloud, and others stopped what they were doing to view the spectacle. It appeared that the policy of the tavern was to allow the patrons to resolve their issues in a manner of their choosing. Though his short fuse had been lit, Picard continued to outwardly react with aplomb. “It is obvious we cannot resolve this situation satisfactorily, so please accept our apologies and we will simply avoid having any future encounters.”

The churlish man hissed, “You look like a human, but you talk like a Mizarian.”

The onlookers sought to exacerbate the encounter with their laughter and taunts. After being called something less than a man and now a coward, Picard felt he had used all the restraint in his arsenal and was about to demonstrate his ability to level an opponent who was twice his mass, when Marti suddenly joined the fray.

“Your actions are unworthy of your species; you have disgraced yourself with your rude behavior and now you are trying to hide your shame by starting a fight . . . so come on and challenge me, if you think you have to defend your honor.”

Inexplicably, brute’s enraged features softened and became radiant. In a charming voice he said to her, “I have made an error concerning your intentions; I now realize that you were not trying to insult me.”

Marti was equally charismatic. “And I understand that you were only protecting your honor as it is you right to do.”

The man reached out and gently took her tiny hands into his large webbed appendages. “I am Varnyk; come join me in my booth so we can share a bottle of noltgarin from my home world.”

“I am Batanides; show me to your booth and I will drink noltgarin with you.” As they left, Marti turned around and shot a wink back at Zweller and Picard.

Picard was incensed. “What just happened here?”

“That guy’s a Zaldan— you can tell by the webbed fingers.”

“What does that mean?”

“They hate niceties; they think it’s phony. So she told him what he wanted to hear and now everything is Kosher.”

Picard looked over at Marti and Varnyk getting comfortable in the booth. “Why did she go off with him?”

“I don’t know if she’s trying to keep him cool or she’s warm for his form, but either way, she’s okay . . . Marti can handle herself in any situation,” Zweller praised.”

Picard was not appeased. “She didn’t need to come to my aid; I was perfectly capable of dispatching that lout.”

Zweller led Picard to the dom-jot table where the group of Chalnaths were waiting for him to take on their champion. “Well, Johnny, there are still plenty of louts left around here. After I’m through trouncing this dude in dom-jot, you may yet get to dispatch one— or two.”

J A N E W A Y

“Starfleet Academy to Starfleet Medical.”

“This is Quaice; go ahead.”

“Code-Four medical emergency . . . Post Thirty-Six is beaming a critical patient directly to sickbay.”

“Acknowledged; C.M.O. Quaice out.” As Quaice left the solitude of his quarters and hustled down the hallway he hit his combadge. “Amber Team to sickbay, stat; Code-Four medical emergency.”

As Quaice entered the trauma room an unconscious female cadet was materializing on a biobed. His Chief Resident, Doctor Beverly Crusher, was standing by and began ministering to the battered and bloody woman, while assessing her condition. “Patient’s vitals are unstable, Doctor Quaice.” Crusher applied neural calipers. “Inter cranial bleed from a fractured skull, internal bleeding from broken ribs on both sides.”

“Two non critical injuries— several fractures along the maxilla and a sublaxation of the humerus from the glenoid,” Nurse Krylak added.

“Also known as a broken jaw and a dislocated shoulder,” Quaice clarified.

“Nanocortical stimulator; fifty mics . . . engage.” Crusher frowned when the patient didn’t rebound. “Increase to one hundred . . . engage.”

“K-Three indicator at sixty-four percent,” Krylak noted apathetically.

“Poor thing,” Nurse Rogers gushed.

“Noradrenergic neurons impeding synaptic transmissions,” Doctor Kel-Aunic evaluated.

“Permission to administer one hundred ccs of noradrenaline,” Crusher requested.

“Permission granted,” Quaice allowed.

“Lower synaptic activity restored; respiratory and heart functions improving . . . motor functions and speech center still impaired,” Krylak appreciated.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Crusher lamented. “Nurse Rogers, introduce ten particles of corpinex, so she comes out of shock.”

Krylak ran the mediscan across the patient’s vital areas. “Punctured liver . . . not irreparable, sir.”

“Severe spinal trauma; edema forming on the cerebral cortex,” Rogers reported.

“Damn!” Crusher cursed. “Adjust pitch on neural calipers to create a Kelva Wave . . . engage at five hundred rads.”

“Brain activities piquing . . . returning to normal,” Krylak monitored.

“She must’ve taken some blow to the head,” Rogers speculated.

“Patient is regaining consciousness, Doctor,” Nurse Oleaan noticed.

“Let’s keep her under for a while . . . improvaline, fifty ccs,” Crusher ordered.

“Patient is unconscious but stable, Doctor,” Rogers announced in a relieved voice.

“K-Three indicator down to fourteen percent,” Krylak observed dispassionately.

Crusher looked up and returned the beaming smile of her mentor, Doctor Dalen Quaice. “She’s going to be all right.”

“I never had any doubt,” Quaice commended.

Crusher stared down at the sturdy young woman. “If medical treatment had been delayed even a few more minutes . . .”

“The patient would certainly be dead,” Krylak appraised, leaving the team speechless at the cold logic of the lanky Vulcan.

With the patient out of danger, Quaice took his med student, Sarah Kingsley, by the hand. “All right, let’s get your feet wet, young woman. Take the protoplaser and adjust it to the diameter of the wound on the liver . . . not too much volume, or it will degenerate; just enough so the tissues coalesce. Excellent; you have the touch.”

“The liver is sealed and functioning normally, Doctor Quaice,” Oleaan confirmed.

“Now, Miss Kingsley, take the osteogenic stimulator and let’s do some mending . . . watch the screen, so you don’t fuse the bones . . . scale back the pressure, so that the ribs don’t superficially regenerate, or they won’t hold. Excellent; you were born for this. Now, administer gammahydroxin to the abdomen to clean up the bone fragments. Or, if you prefer, Doctor Crusher, we could cut her open with a scalpel and pick the pieces out with tweezers.”

In spite of the tense situation, Crusher replied whimsically, “Lets see if the gammahydroxin does the trick; if not I’ll go to the medical museum and fetch a cutdown tray.”

“Isotopic ratios are one to one, Doctor,” Kingsley informed.

“Okay, it’s all over but for the shooting,” Quaice declared. “You’ll run the osteogenic stimulator over her jaw, in a few minutes . . . we don’t want to risk sending her into shock by doing another cranial procedure before her chemical neutrons are level.”

“What about her dislocated shoulder?” Crusher inquired.

Doctor Quaice shot a frustrated look at the patient. “Maybe we can get some sense through this thick skull of hers, by giving her a painful reminder of her ordeal. You will manually rotate her arm back into its socket and place it in a sling.”

Crusher was incredulous. “Isn’t that a violation of the Hippocratic oath?”

“We are doing no harm by applying an approved, time-honored method of treatment,” Quaice dictated.

Crusher demurred. “Understood, Doctor.”

Fixing Crusher with a scholarly gaze, Quaice mused, “I assume that the granddaughter of Felisa Howard is well-versed in the classic procedure to attach a dislocated shoulder . . . probably more so than I.”

“Under my nana’s tutelage, I learned many age old treatments of injuries and ailments,” Crusher assured. “I can even cure the common cold if anyone ever got one again.”

“Medical science has wiped out a lot of medical practices, but it’s good to know the basics in case you’re cutoff from medical science and need to heal your patient,” Quaice stated for the medical team.

Crusher looked at the cadet with compassion. “What do you think happened to her, Doctor Quaice?”

“Well since she was transported from Post Thirty-Six, I’m certain that her injuries were sustained on the athletic compound.” Quaice lifted her eyelids and shined his penlight in them. “The only sport that racks up these kinds of injuries is Parrise Squares; the most violent blood sport since the gladiatorial arena . . . except for a Klingon bat’leth tournament.”

“If it’s that barbaric, why don’t they outlaw it?” Crusher asked.

“Because of us,” Quaice confessed. “From Hippocrates to you and me, the medical profession has been toiling to save fools from themselves. With each breakthrough in medical science, mankind gets a little more reckless, because we can pick up the pieces. Doctor Leonard McCoy dubbed it: ‘Humpty Dumpty Syndrome.’ People have become so arrogant that they believe there is no calamity they cannot be saved from, so they push beyond the envelope to feel the rush of immortality.”

Crusher read the neurographic scan, “She really went through Hell.”

“Worse; she’s been through a Parrise Squares match . . . though I’ve never seen a case where a woman was so badly beaten.”

“We’ve come a long way baby,” Crusher chortled.

“All right, Miss Kingsley, we’re ready to address the fractures along the jaw line . . . deal with each area individually rather than running it across . . . use a circular motion . . . that’s right . . . you can see it reshaping as the swelling goes down; that’s how you know your doing it right. Excellent. We have a promising student here, Doctor Crusher.”

“I concur, Doctor Quaice.”

Quaice headed for the door and paternally looked back at the cadet whose life had hung in the balance only minutes before. “Doctor Crusher, you can tell this waif that next time she’ll get nothing more than adhesive tape, aspirin and an icepack from my sickbay.”

“Very good, Doctor Quaice.”

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to catch up on.”

As Quaice headed out of the trauma room, Crusher followed. Once they were outside, she called out to him. “One moment, Doctor.” Quaice stopped and Crusher leaned in close so that no one else could hear. “You’ve been locked away and unapproachable since we left Delos-Four and I’m worried about you, Dalen.”

“You needn’t be, Beverly. I’m just out of sorts without Patricia around.”

“Well she’ll be here before long, you’ll see . . . and if you’re down in the dumps when she gets here, she’s going to hold me personally responsible, so from now on you’re officially under my care.”

“And what is your prescription for a case of the blues, Doc?”

“A galactic feast.”

“With universal beverages.”

“We’ll start with crab puffs.”

“And I shall mix a pitcher of martinis so dry it might die of thirst.”

“For the main course we’ll have roast teracaq on angel hair pasta, served with a side dish of tartoc.”

“And I have a bottle of Enolian spice wine stashed away that will wash it all down nicely.”

“And for desert, utaberry crepes, served on French vanilla ice-cream.”

“Then after dinner we shall test our skills as chemists by attempting to create a Tzartak aperitif.”

“We might be too tipsy by then; maybe we’ll have hot Finalian toddies.”

“And when we are full and whoozy, will we miss our loved ones any less?”

“Of course not . . . but we will enjoy the evening more.”

“You are able to look forward to the day Jack returns; I have no idea if Patricia and I will ever be together again.”

“Yes you do . . . this isn’t the end; it’s a bump in the road,” Crusher soothed. “She didn’t want to leave Kenda-Two and go to Delos-Four, but she did. She’ll join you here before long. I know true love when I see it.”

“Well when your patient comes to, you might inquire if she wants to join our lonely hearts club . . . Lord knows her sense of loss is far greater than ours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I didn’t recognize her till the swelling on her face went down, but that’s Ed Janeway’s daughter . . . Kate, I believe. It’s been barely a year since his death, so she must still have an open wound.”

“I’ll talk to her and see if we can be of any help.”

“And I shall ready myself for the festivities by loosening up with some Saurian brandy . . . perhaps a carafe full.”

Crusher watched the great man walk down the hall visibly carrying his burden. Her own sense of loneliness made her keenly aware of the emptiness he felt. Trying to forge a nuclear family in this day and age, where in a moment you were separated by light years from your mate, was seemingly foolhardy yet the human spirit still needed to bond in love to feel complete. The great distances separating two hearts in love has always given poetry its epic verve; the dramatic references to the moon and stars and the Milky Way, so overused by earthbound poets of bygone eras, gained relevant potency in the galactic milieu.

As Crusher returned to the trauma room, she noticed her patient had begun to stir back to consciousness with a groan. She tried to rise, but was knocked back by a wave of pain. Crusher complied with Doctor Quaice’s course of treatment and let the cadet grapple with her discomfort for a moment before administering a dose of hydrazine for her dizziness. “All right, Cadet; I need you to brace yourself; I’m going to rotate your shoulder back into its socket.”

“You’re going to do what?”

“Doctor Quaice has ordered that your injury be treated conventionally. So, allow yourself to relax . . . you’re in capable hands.” Crusher took hold of the limb and, in two quick motions, shoved the appendage back into place. Janeway screamed and writhed momentarily, before Crusher gave her a shot for the pain.

Looking at her tattered and bloodstained jumpsuit made Janeway shudder as she recalled her final harrowing moments of consciousness. “All things considered, I guess I’m not so bad off.”

“It seems that you were severely beaten in a game of Parrise Squares . . . although injuries like that can hardly be thought of as part of a game.”

“I think of it as a ruthless contest without mercy.”

Crusher helped Janeway situate her arm in the old fashioned sling. “You’ll have to wear this until further notice; you’ve been signed into rehabilitation and placed on modified duty.”

“But I can’t train for Parrise Squares wearing this contraption,” Janeway protested.

“I believe part of Doctor Quaice’s treatment plan is to slow you down and keep you out of harm’s way for awhile . . . perhaps you should enjoy the break.”

Janeway’s jaw flexed with frustration. “Perhaps I should . . . but I won’t.”

Crusher ran the mediscan over Janeway, just to be thorough. “So, did you get the number of the truck that hit you?”

“Actually, he had my number.”

“He? Why were you competing against a man?”

“It’s all part of my master plan to become the first woman to make the varsity squad . . . someday. I issued the challenge to the cadet on the team nearest my weight class and we fought for the spot . . . I’m sure you can guess the outcome.”

Crusher began slowly moving her finger from side to side, to test the cadet’s ocular responses. “What’s wrong with competing for a spot on the women’s team?”

“There are no men on it.”

Crusher gave Janeway the once over with her tricorder to make sure nothing had escaped her attention. “I don’t understand.”

“Join the club.”

“I have to file a report about this incident for my C.M.O.; it would help if I had some background.”

“I’ve been chosen to try and make waves at The Academy for women. No woman has ever been offered an application for Team Avenger by The Commandant and the best way to get the necessary recognition is to make the Parrise Squares varsity squad, which is something else no woman has ever accomplished . . . and here I am.”

“What made you decide to take on such a dangerous program?”

“The groundskeeper . . . an ancient gent named Boothby.”

“The groundskeeper put you up to this? How did he do that?”

“He’s quite a persistent fellow when he’s strongly motivated . . . actually, the more I worked with my trainer the more I began to embrace the challenge.”

“Did your trainer really think you were ready to challenge one of the male varsity players?”

“He knew I’d be soundly defeated, but that I’d get a reputation as being fearless . . . or nuts. He instructed me to take as much of a pounding as I could before they had to beam me out of there and save my life.” Janeway slowly got off the biobed and tested her legs before putting her weight on them. “It was even more horrible than I thought it would be.”

“How did you get so many injuries; did he continue beating you after you were down?”

“No. He continued beating me every time I got back up.”

“And you’re really going back for more.”

“You better believe it, sister.” Janeway waited for her equilibrium to balance her. “Just as soon as the warden takes my arm out of jail.”

“Well I congratulate you for having the courage to be a pioneer, but you have to realize how dangerous this sport is. I know you’re feeling okay now, but a half-an-hour ago . . .”

“I know . . . I was there. But I’ll live to fight on thanks to you, Doctor . . .”

“Crusher, Beverly Crusher.”

“Thanks, Doctor Crusher.”

“Well if you’re going to continue your career in Parrise Squares, we’re going to see a lot of each other, so you may as well call me Beverly.”

“Okay, Beverly . . . glad to know you; I’m Kate.”

“Yes I know; Kate Janeway. My C.M.O. recognized you; evidently he was a friend of your father’s.”

“It’s good he had a lot of friends; I hope it made up for not having much of a family life.”

“I’m terribly sorry for your loss.”

“So was I . . . a long time ago.”

“But your father only died a year or so ago.”

“Well he was long gone before then. I grew up on my grandpa’s farm, while he patrolled the galaxy and my mother cruised the solar system.”

“My mother and father died when I was very young. I was raised by my nana on Arvada-Three.”

“Arvada-Three? It’s amazing anyone survived on that colony after the eco disaster.”

“Nana had no formal medical training, but taught herself to be a healer using roots and herbs. She taught me as she learned, and I began assisting her when I was still a kid.”

“My grandpa taught me how to hunt and fish. We’d go camping in the hills for days on end. He was quite a man.”

“So was your father by all accounts.”

“That’s what I’ve read and heard.”

“Surely you must have many memories of him.”

“Mostly of missing him. That’s why it’s hardly different now when I think about him, except for the tragedy of his death.”

“My husband is serving aboard the Stargazer, so he is gone for long periods of time on deep space missions.”

“When’s the last time you saw him?”

“By the time they come back to Alpha Quadrant next fall it will have been almost two years.”

“It must be difficult to maintain a marriage at that distance.”

“If not for love it would be impossible.”

“Any children?”

“A son, Wesley. He’s four now. He’s only seen his dad a couple of times.”

“It’s always toughest on the children of Starfleet officers,” Janeway related. “They never understand why their parents aren’t around; it makes them feel like they aren’t loved enough. I hope it works out for your little guy.”

“That’s partly why I’m here at Starfleet Medical. When Jack gets back he’s going to teach Paratactics at The Academy, so we can settle down and build a family.”

“My dad could never accept a ground assignment, the lure of adventure would always beckon him to the next post. He would say he was coming back and I’d make plans, but some assignment or crisis would manage to take precedence over me.”

“I’m sure he didn’t see it that way.”

“He wasn’t the one sitting at home blowing up balloons and writing ‘Welcome Home’ signs.” Janeway reached out and shook Crusher’s hand then started for the door. “Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time.”

“Just one more thing, Kate. Doctor Quaice wanted to know if you wished to join us for supper this evening; we’re just settling in and we’d enjoy the company.”

Janeway smiled pleasantly. “Thanks, Beverly. I’d love to take a rain check, if you don’t mind. You see, I’m due over at The Launching Pad; after taking a beating like this, you have to stand the team to rounds of drinks and listen to them laugh at you for getting pulverized . . . tradition is tradition.”

“Rain check it is; we eat supper every evening.” As Janeway turned to leave, Crusher stopped her. “Kate, just a moment. I want you to know that your injuries were very severe, life threatening in fact.”

“Yeah I thought I heard a few dead relatives calling my name as I lost consciousness.”

“All kidding aside; please be careful. And don’t be afraid to admit that you’re in over your head.”

“My dad always said, ‘If you’re in over your head then you have to go deeper’ . . . of course considering he drowned I guess his advice should be taken with a grain of salt.”

Crusher watched Janeway amble off, noticeably bearing her sorrow stoically.

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